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Father Vincent Hawkswell

It’s not too late for an Advent tune-up

Voices Dec. 10, 2018

An Advent wreath outside St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. It’s not too late to make some changes to your Advent and prepare well to celebrate Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, writes Father Hawkswell. (CNS photo)

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C 
First Reading: Zep 3:14-18a 
Second Reading: Phil 4:4-7 
Gospel Reading: Lk 3:10-18

“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Jesus is coming! He is almost here!

What should we do? How should we prepare? This is what the people asked John the Baptist in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading.

The hymn answers: “Make your house fair as you are able; trim the hearth, and set the table. People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.”

Indeed, we are trimming the hearth and setting the table – but for whom? Is it for Jesus, or are we, in fact, thinking of every guest except him? Have we chosen a present for him?

Jesus is coming, not just into our homes, but into our very hearts. We will all have our homes clean and decorated for Christmas, but have we thought about the state of our hearts, where Jesus will enter as our Guest?

Have we got the door open for him? Even if we have, there is probably a fair bit of clutter and perhaps some downright dirt swept under the carpet. Some of the windows may have to be cleaned. Some of the dark, cold, and damp rooms may have to be lighted, aired, and warmed.

If you asked St. John the Baptist what you should do, what would he say to you? If you know, good: do it. If you do not, take time this week to examine your heart, where God will visit you, personally, intimately, unavoidably, in nine days.

It is not too late. God’s forgiveness is as near as the nearest confessional. A good confession is all you need to “trim the hearth and set the table” for the divine Guest. Then, with your priorities straight, with your principal Guest in the forefront of your mind and heart, you can continue your other preparations for Christmas.

Now, in fact, these preparations will make sense. Buying and wrapping presents will no longer be arduous duties, but loving prayers for the recipients. Your Christmas cards will no longer picture, as C.S. Lewis said, “birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf,” but rather a mother in a stable with a Baby, who is God, born as Man to save us from our sins.

The Christmas carols you listen to will no longer be about snow, or bells, or Frosty, or Rudolph, or (worst of all) our own nostalgia for our childhood, but about the angels and what they said to the shepherds the night Jesus was born.

The food you prepare will not be just for yourself and your family, but also for the homeless and the hungry, whom you can help through your parish. Indeed, you will want to invite into your home those who are truly poor, who have no one with whom to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The movies you watch will not be just It’s a Beautiful Life, or White Christmas, but also The Nativity. Your Christmas tree will be not the centre of your home, but a backdrop for a nativity scene. Christmas Mass will not be something you get out of the way as early as possible, but the high point of the day, when Christ comes physically into your body as well as spiritually into your soul.

Only if we withdraw from the Christmas rush and seek Christ will we really enjoy Christmas. Without him, we cannot possibly “get into the Christmas spirit.” If we do not “rejoice in the Lord,” as St. Paul urges, we have nothing to celebrate.

This week, “do not worry about anything, but in everything let your requests be made known to God by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Then you will indeed have a Merry Christmas.

Father Hawkswell teaches a free course on the Catholic faith from now until Pentecost: every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre, 4885 Saint John Paul II Way (just off 33rd Avenue between Oak and Cambie) and twice every Monday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Anthony’s Parish, 2347 Inglewood Avenue, West Vancouver, and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre. Everyone is welcome, Catholic or non-Catholic.